200km in a day is a bit of an undertaking any time of year, but when it involves getting up at 5.30am to drive to the start line of the Wye Wednesday Audax ride at Meopham in the dark, cold, pouring February rain, I think it’s quite reasonable to question your sanity. In fact, so dismal was the murky weather on the drive over that I had pretty much decided to tell the organisers I was pulling out. However, on arrival I saw a multitude of tough old guys with study audax bicycles and waterproofs of various vintages, and thought that my decision might’ve been a little hasty – so I signed on. The trouble with negativity and procrastination though it that it wastes time, and I was the second last person to set off – about 20 minutes after the first few big bunches. I also appeared to be the only person without a bar-mounted waterproof route card holder. I think a piece of A4 in a document wallet (gripped between hand and bar) is probably fine on a sunny Sunday, but in the persistent rain (which was to last all day) it was quite a job preventing it from turning to mush.
My plan then was to ride fairly hard, and try to pick up one of the earlier groups, which would allow me to sit in without having to worry too much about the nav. This course of action wasn’t quite as simple as it sounds, as the route was not especially straightforward – the logistics of planning 200km on quiet country roads necessitating a fair number of complex direction changes. Also, the route card system is excellent (and far better than a map) when you’re confident you’re on the right tack, but a bloody nightmare if you get lost. I ended up stopping at most junctions, and spent rather too much time ruminating on the improbability of ever catching anyone up at all, especially the seasoned Audaxers, some of whom rode this route every year.
But after a while I started to reel the field in. By the time I reached the outskirts of Tonbridge I’d caught a biggish bunch, mostly made up of a bunch of lunatics in shorts (there was another madman riding the event in jeans!) – using the Audax as training for a French tour. I rode with them to Laddingford, but the pace was slow and I was getting cold, so I continued the chase alone. Unfortunately I made a navigational error a few miles on which took me halfway to Horsmonden before I realised – not very clever. Again the hammer went down, and I caught the shorts brigade around Marden, from where we cruised to the first cafe stop at Staplehurst. Rather than hang around for a bacon sandwich, I procured the sticker for my brevet card, and then jumped on the back of a departing group. We followed a great back route to Tenterden, and around a mile before we arrived I jumped off the front, keen to get ahead enough to allow me to stop at my parents house (where I had dumped a couple of bottles of energy drink) and get back on the group. Alas, by the time I was on the road they were long gone, so once again I put my foot down, averaging about 20mph. I was quite concerned that these hard efforts would come back to haunt me later in the day, but decided getting to the front was more important. I caught some guys around Bilsington, and followed them into Hythe.
The cafe stop at Hythe was too good an opportunity to miss, and egg and chips and a mug of tea were very welcome. Not only that, all the leaders were there too. I joined a group that got away towards the front – two seasoned Audaxers including the event organiser Tim Jackson. Both were very well prepared, and with mudguards looked like they’d been out for a five minute blast. I on the other hand looked like a filthy drowned rat. The rain picked up again, and the ride over to Wye was pretty grim. The bunch grew as we picked up a couple of the leaders who had slowed, and pressed on to Marden for another checkpoint. From there the route winded north, and the terrain got quite hilly. I was expecting my somewhat excessive speed towards the start to cause problems, but I had kept fairly well-fuelled all day, and I still felt quite fresh. Alas, it got darker and darker towards the finish, and my front light was still plugged into the recharging cord where I had forgotten about it that morning. I followed the others in the dark, and 2 miles from the finish got a puncture. I considered walking, but in the end relented and changed the tube. I couldn’t find the culprit in the tyre though, and was not relishing the prospect of the final distance with only a rear light. Thankfully, one of the bunch popped back with a spare. We were within 200m of the finish when the wheel went again, and that time I did decide to limp over the line. Even so, the majority of the 43 starters were behind us, and I justifiably awarded myself a pat on the back.
The next local 200km Audax is the Man of Kent on Sunday 27 March. Hopefully it’ll be a little drier…